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2013 Annual Meeting

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Page published 14 June 2013

ECF Delegate’s report

Since the last MCCU AGM, there have been two ECF Council meetings. This report includes an account of these meetings, together with brief comments on relevant developments during the rest of the year.

(a)      ECF Annual General Meeting, 13 October 2012


The following is a summary of the decisions taken at the ECF’s AGM in Birmingham.  The meeting lasted five hours, and this report can at best offer a flavour of events.

The number of attendees seemed broadly in line with previous years, although Board members were thin on the ground.  For various reasons, the following directors were absent: Adam Raoof (Home Chess), Gareth Caller (Finance), Tim Woolgar (Marketing), Sean Hewitt (International Chess) and Jack Rudd and John Wickham (Non-Executive Directors). 

I attended in my capacity as the outgoing Chief Executive and as representative for the MCCU and Worcestershire Chess Association (WCA).  I had also been given a small handful of proxies from others who were unable to attend the meeting. 

Prior to the meeting, I separately sought the views of the MCCU and WCA and outlined my voting intentions, subject to clear direction from members of the organisations represented to the contrary.  In each case, I received a handful of responses and endeavoured to reflect these as best I could through my votes.

General Comment

On the whole, the atmosphere in the meeting was less unpleasant than at the Finance Council meeting in April, although ripples from the topics dominating discussion at that time occasionally surfaced at the AGM.  This manifested itself in several negative comments about the Director of Home Chess, Adam Raoof, and the recently resigned President, CJ de Mooi.  These comments came principally from those involved in the dispute which started at the British Championships in Sheffield 2011.

In particular, the hostility of some towards ex-President CJ de Mooi was evident in criticism of his contribution during the FIDE General Assembly, resulting in a narrow vote by Council in favour of requiring the Board to investigate this and, if appropriate, seek reimbursement of the out-of-pocket expenses paid to him.  I opposed this motion, partly due to my knowledge of the circumstances and partly because it seemed both petty and pointless.  I have little doubt that any future request for reimbursement would be refused – in my personal opinion, justifiably – and that the prospects for successful legal action to recover all or part of the payment made are negligible.

Summary of decisions taken

The reports from the directors and others were all approved, mostly nem con

There were no accounts available for Council to approve.  The Board apologised for this, explaining that a number of issues had been identified which needed further work and that, due to illness, the Director of Finance had been unavailable to resolve them.

The Report on Achievement against Business Plan and the Long Term Strategic Plan were approved nem con.  I found it disappointing that, as so often, there were no questions or comments at all from Council about these documents.  I have to declare an interest, of course, having authored them in previous years and worked in partnership with new Strategic Planning Officer, Stephen Jones, this year.  Nevertheless, these are a key part of (a) assessing whether the ECF is delivering what it said it would do and (b) determining direction for the coming years.  It seems to me that these are precisely the areas on which Council should be focusing, whereas in practice it appears to pay them no attention at all.

Council noted a number of changes to the Directors and Officers Responsibilities Regulations.  Of these, by far the most significant was the expansion of the role of Director of Marketing to become Director of Membership and Marketing. 
Specific proposals considered:

  • To increase the number of directors from 10 to 11, in order to create the role of Director of Women’s Chess.  I had indicated prior to the meeting that I had mixed views on this proposal and intended to listen to the arguments on the day and decide.  Ben Edgell from Somerset CCA argued for the motion.  My impression from his comments was that the motivation for the proposal was: (i) to ensure a female Board member; (ii) to enable women’s chess to receive an extra allocation from the budget; and (iii) to steer the Board to appoint Sabrina Chevannes and Jovanka Houska into the new role.

Since the proposal did not achieve (i), since anyone – male or female – could fill the role, the budget for 2012/13 was already set and I had reservations about the wisdom of (iii), I voted against.  The proposal was heavily defeated.

  • To instruct the Board not to pursue certain ideas in the election statement of candidate for ECF President, Roger Edwards (RE).  As indicated ahead of the meeting, I did not support the ideas put forward in the election statement.  RE addressed the meeting and explained that his statement reflected views expressed to him by some players and organisers.  He appeared to suggest that they were not necessarily aims which he shared, although this seemed at odds with the wording of his election statement.  The motion provoked considerable debate.  It was passed by 124 votes to 88 on a card vote.  I voted in favour.
  • To change the ECF’s financial year-end from 30 April to 31 August.  Passed nem con with very little discussion.  It had been trailed at the previous meeting.
  • To adopt the Standards of Conduct for ECF Officials and Complaints Procedure.  This proposal emanated from me, having been put before Council in April and referred for consultation, partly due to shortage of time at that meeting.  I felt strongly that the ECF had suffered from the absence of these documents in the previous year.  After considerable discussion, both documents were approved.  In the case of the Complaints Procedure, minor amendments were made.
  • To hold an Extraordinary General Meeting in January or February 2013 to consider whether to apply for registered charity status.  Passed nem con.
  • Various ‘tidying up’ amendments to the Articles and Bye Laws.  By this stage of the meeting, time was extremely short and there was virtually no discussion at all.  The amendments were all passed. 
  • To discontinue the service for members allowing the grading of games played in events outside England.  This had been proposed by the Grading Team, following its rejection by the Board just over a year ago.  After a brief debate, the proposal was defeated.
  • To admit Barnstaple Chess Club to membership as an “Other Organisation”.  Passed.

A proposal by the NCCU to amend the County Championship rules was postponed due to lack of time (having noted that it would not have come into effect until Autumn 2013 anyway).
The following officials were elected:

  • President – Roger Edwards (111 to 101 on a card vote)
  • Non-Executive Chairman – Mike Gunn
  • Director of Finance – Chris Mattos
  • Non-Executive Directors – Sean Hewitt and Jack Rudd
  • Director of Home Chess – Alex Holowczak
  • Director of Junior Chess & Education – Phil Ehr
  • FIDE Delegate – Nigel Short (148 to 55 on a card vote)
  • Chairman of the Finance Committee – Mike Truran
  • Members of the Finance Committee – Ray Clark and Ian Reynolds
  • Chairman of the Governance Committee – Chris Majer
  • Members of the Governance Committee – Richard Haddrell and Andrew Leadbetter

I voted in favour of all of the elected candidates except Roger Edwards.  This reflected the feedback which I had received before the meeting and my own views.  I disagreed with the aims expressed in RE’s election statement and, the earlier motion to block these notwithstanding, felt that they reflected poorly on his judgement in respect of key parts of the ECF’s activities.  Having listened carefully to what RE said at the meeting, I was also concerned that he appeared to see the role of the President more as a conduit for the views of others than as an active representative for the ECF and English Chess outside the organisation.  I agree that the President can usefully act as a channel for others’ views, but it strikes me as a mistake to overemphasise this element at the expense of the President’s vital role as ambassador. 

Somewhat unexpectedly, Adam Raoof (AR) failed to be elected Director of Membership and Marketing.  As far as I could tell, there were two reasons for this.  AR was not present at the meeting and had not provided an election statement, so he could neither answer allegations and comments made nor explain his intentions within the role.  In addition, the cumulative effect of strong criticism of AR by – most frequently – Lara Barnes may have influenced some voters.  I voted in favour of AR and was disappointed that Council preferred to leave such an important post vacant than to elect him.

(b)      Post-AGM developments (Oct 2012 – April 2013)

The following is a summary of the decisions taken at the ECF’s AGM in Birmingham.  The meeting lasted five hours, and this report can at best offer a flavour of events.

  • Sean Hewitt undertook to cover the role of Director of Membership and Marketing, pending formal appointment of a suitable candidate.
  • David Openshaw was appointed Director of International Chess.  He brings to the role relevant experience in a senior role in another sport as well as a long-held enthusiasm for chess.
  • The planned (and voted-for) EGM did not take place.  Instead, a motion was passed by postal/e-mail vote extending the existing trust deeds for the funds managed under the auspices of the BCF for a further year.  There was no progress towards applying for charitable status during this period.  This was reportedly due to reservations among some Board members concerning the funding of the non-charitable body to deal with non-amateur chess.

(c)      ECF Finance Council Meeting, 13 April 2013

I was unable to attend this meeting, due to a commitment to play in the Bloxwich weekend congress.  Detailed voting instructions, based on the feedback received from MCCU representatives during the prior consultation process and my best judgement, were given to my nominated proxy, Alex Holowczak.
The meeting proved to be lengthy, a superficially ‘light’ and relatively ‘non-contentious’ agenda notwithstanding.  Not all of the business of the meeting was completed.
On the key financial issues at the heart of the Finance Council meeting, the following should be noted:

  • A break-even budget was approved at the April 2013 Finance Council meeting.  Given that the 2013/14 financial year will, exceptionally, include both an Olympiad and the European Team Championships, expenditure will be higher than normal.  Break-even is, therefore, better than it seems at first sight.  There is a realistic prospect of funds being available in future years to support the development of chess in England.
  • Membership subscriptions and game fee rates are unchanged for the coming year.

Other points:

  • The internal ECF Code of Conduct approved at the 2012 AGM was suspended.  This was reportedly due to a number of relatively trivial complaints concerning ECF officials, which it was felt were needlessly time-consuming.

As instigator of the Code, it may not be surprising that I find this disappointing, not least because I understand that the number of complaints involved was not large (perhaps half a dozen) and could have been dealt with quickly without undermining the validity of the Code.  Nevertheless, I recognise the possibility of bias on this issue.  My recommendation is that the MCCU should press for the reinstatement of a suitable Code and its extension to ‘external’ aspects of English chess (i.e. non-ECF-run events).  Incidences of computer-aided cheating and the ECF’s current lack of authority to deal with them are just one reason why a Code is of value.

  • A consultation paper on Charitable Status was issued by Chris Mattos immediately before the Finance Council meeting, with responses requested for the end of June.  This is an important topic but not a straightforward one, and there is no simple way of reaching a judgement on the best way forward.  MCCU members are urged to read the consultation paper and feed back their views to the ECF, directly or through their delegate.
  • The proposed changes to the County Championships were NOT discussed at the Finance Council meeting due to lack of available time.  A teleconference was due to be held on 14th May involving representatives of the chess unions, with a view to agreeing proposals for the October 2013 AGM to consider.  I have no information as to the conclusions reached.
  • There was no Business Plan presented for approval.  The ECF is currently lacking both a Chief Executive and a Strategic Planning Officer (Stephen Jones resigned during 2013A).  The lack of a Business Plan seems to have been accepted without concern in most quarters.  I believe that this is a mistake and that a formal plan can give an organisation the impetus to make progress.  That said, I can understand the difficulties caused by the lack of key personnel.

(d)      General comments

It has been a relatively quiet period for the ECF, since the Oct 2012 AGM.  On the one hand, this is good news, as it indicates a relative lack of the kind of time-consuming controversies which blighted the preceding period and inhibited progress in more constructive directions. 

On the other hand, ‘quiet’ also means a relative lack of forward movement on various fronts, and one senses that the emphasis is on consolidation and business-as-usual rather than positive change.  This is understandable given the lack of a complete Board and, no doubt, some ‘scarring’ from the previous couple of years.

  • MEMBERSHIP – The ECF now has some 9525 members, with the likelihood that this figure will increase a little as some counties and leagues identify players for whom there would be a game fee liability greater than the cost of Bronze membership.  Based on the number of members and the income from ‘Pay to Play’ fees and residual Game Fee, the ECF’s finances can be said to have stabilised.  As noted above, there is a realistic prospect of the ECF’s being able to invest money into the development of English chess after 2013/14 (when it has to finance two international team events, as opposed to the usual one).
  • COST SAVINGS – As expected, the ECF has been able to reduce its staffing requirement for the central office.  The staff now consists of 2.4 people (i.e. two Full-time, plus one person on two days a week).  John Philpott in particular has been spending time in the office helping to improve the routines in respect of billing and financial administration.  All of this is positive, in my opinion.
  • JUNIOR CHESS - The trend towards larger English squads in junior events (a change initiated by Phil Ehr) has continued, with 48 players and 12 coaches representing England at the recently-completed World Schools Chess Championship.
  • BRITISH CHAMPIONSHIPS – The 100th annual congress of the BCF/ECF will be taking place at the Riviera Centre in Torquay.  It is likely to see a larger-than-average entry, based on the early indications.
  • DIRECTOR OF MEMBERSHIP & MARKETING – Following the Finance Council meeting, it was announced that Dave Thomas had been appointed to this role.
  • CHIEF EXECUTIVE – This role remains vacant, although I am aware that a candidate is under consideration so an announcement may be made between this report and the MCCU AGM.

Andrew Farthing      9 June 2013